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By Dan Rudy 

Public hearing charts course for trails


Submitted Illustration

A map of the future trail system being proposed by Wrangell Parks and Recreation, showing its three-tiered plan as identified through a series of community surveys four years ago. The routes marked in green are present trail networks, with the red sections representing the first phase of construction. The idea was presented to the public at a Monday evening meeting in City Hall.

There was a good turnout at the Parks and Recreation public information meeting at Wrangell City Hall Monday night, with about two-dozen residents coming to hear about and discuss the department's proposed trail projects.

"We've got a big public meeting," Borough Economic Development Director Carol Rushmore noted. "We don't normally have this many people."

Parks and Rec Director Amber Al-Haddad is looking toward a Nov. 15 deadline to submit applications to a Recreation Trail Program grant through the Alaska State Department of Natural Resources, and was hoping for some public input.

"We wanted to bring this to you," she told the group, adding that it was high time the project was put to public opinion. The trails idea has been in development since 2010, when public meetings and surveys were last held.

The three-tiered plan identifies routes that would extend the borough's existing trail system, eventually linking Mount Dewey's with Petroglyph Beach and the loop at Volunteer Park. The first proposed extension would link Zimovia Highway east of the Forest Service office to the Mount Dewey trail by traversing the muskeg beyond the industrial park. A further first-phase addition would extend the Volunteer trail along a common use path linking it to Etolin Street.

Trail planners had hoped to identify concerns with their proposed routes at the meeting, and they received plenty.

The two major issues people attending the meeting had with the idea would be its use of boardwalk-style construction – considered too narrow, prone to slickness and susceptibility to wear – and the restriction the trails would pose to all-terrain vehicle and snowmobile usage.

"I like the gravel. I'm all for gravel," one local walker said. "If we can avoid planks, I say avoid them at all cost." She added that boardwalk would limit access by being ill-suited for bicyclists, horseback riders and runners.

A local snowmobiler felt the route interrupted one of the last "wild" spots near town by bisecting the muskeg, a popular place for local children to ride and play. He also supported gravel, but also questioned the route itself.

The trail's planners explained that building gravel pathways across the muskeg posed a problem, running afoul of the United States Army Corps of Engineers regulations on wetlands. A boardwalk would leave less of a footprint, allowing drainage to continue unimpeded. And the ratio of lands or repayment that would be needed to compensate the Corps for building a gravel trail through the wetland would make project costs unfeasible, they explained.

Addressing the snowmobile and ATV concern, Bob Lippert of the United States Forest Service explained that a series of ramps could be constructed into the trail's design to allow passage of the machines at natural bottlenecks, but that current usage had already been taken into account when laying out the route.

"We don't want to push anybody out," he said. "That was all taken into consideration."

The trail selection process has been a tricky process, trying to strike a balance between current use and future development while also conforming to program requirements from several different funding sources.

In 2012 Wrangell received a two-year technical grant from the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA), providing trail design and layout training to Borough and Forest Service staff. This August, members from the three groups worked together to site and flag out the three segments.

The project also has been selected for consideration by the Federal Highway Administration's Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP). The program is focused on improving access to federal lands, in this case the Forest Service office. Any route to be considered for the program grant would have to reach the office, ruling out alternate routes such as the proposed priority three trail along the ridgeline to the trailer court on Evergreen Road.

There are geographical constraints as well. To its west, the extension trail would circumvent undevelopable industrial park remediation lands before meeting up with Mount Dewey's trail. The routes have also been sited along future rights-of-way, so in the event of future development the trail route could be incorporated into city sidewalks.

While there were a number of concerns and alternatives put forward at the meeting, most of those in attendance expressed their support for the project's goal. Running out of time before any conclusion could be reached, Rushmore suggested that another meeting will have to be held in the near future. A final decision will have to be made before next month's submission deadline to the Recreational Trail Program.

Maps, information and updates regarding the trail proposal can be found at http://www.wrangell.com, under a "Let's Talk Trails" link in the current events tab. Lippert added that they are currently looking for volunteers interested in helping out with the trail. He can be reached through the Wrangell Recreation page on Facebook for more information.


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